Elena Baltacha’s legacy is being preserved as successful academy continues to flourish
The late Elena Baltacha’s tennis academy gives children from a wide range of backgrounds the chance to flourish at tennis. CHRIS BRAMMER talks to her widower and former coach, Nino Severino, who is continuing to build that legacy in Suffolk and beyond.
There’s no doubt Great Britain’s Davis Cup success will go down as one of the finest sporting achievements the nation has ever witnessed.
However, the glory of beating Belgium in the final was tinged with negativity.
While such victories are usually met with a real sense of optimism for the future, the same cannot be said for our nation’s tennis hopes.
Andy Murray, one of the finest players in the world, almost single-handedly led the team to victory, but questioned the role of the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) and their contribution to producing the next generation of stars, after the triumph.
In Ipswich, the widower and former coach of Elena Baltacha, Nino Severino, is preserving the memory of “Bally” and developing her legacy at the hugely-successful Elena Baltacha Academy of Tennis (EBAT).
He maintains EBAT’s relationship with the LTA has always been a very strong one and that the governing body’s support of the academy has always been excellent.
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However, Severino maintains something needs to be done to increase participation in this country – the latest statistics showing that Great Britain boast just three top-50 players, male or female, in the world – and has urged other tennis clubs to follow EBAT’s lead.
After victory in Belgium, Murray issued a damning indictment of the state of the game in this country and voiced his concerns over the lack of up-and-coming players.
“It’s concerning not to have any juniors in the Grand Slams because that is something we were always very good at. It’s not ideal,” he said.
Meanwhile, his sentiments were echoed by ex-Davis Cup captain David Lloyd, who had previously criticised Murray for not putting enough back into the game.
“The LTA do not run the game very well. They haven’t for many, many, many years,” Lloyd said.
LTA chief executive, Michael Downey responded, saying: “We value the opinions of all of our players on how we grow the game in Britain and our door is always open to Andy, Dan (Evans), Dom (Inglot), James (Ward), Jamie (Murray) and Kyle (Edmund) to hear their views and work corroboratively with them and all of our partners.”
It’s hard to argue with Severino’s pitch, the EBAT academy, launched in 2010, having already spawned two youngsters who have gone on to win Great Britain badges, in Justice Hall and Sofiya Khalyaeva.
The academy is based at Ipswich School Sports Centre, but has also branched out to Colchester, while there is a big EBAT programme in Scotland, where ‘Bally’ spent much of her childhood, being developed.
Taking their workshops around Suffolk, EBAT can attract up to 350 youngsters over a four-day period at different schools.
The academy specialises in bringing children in from a diverse range of areas and can provide support to parents and their youngsters if they are struggling to start the game or finding it difficult to move up the progression pathway.
It also offers pastoral care, medical screenings, Sports Science support, strength and conditioning, injury prevention programmes and tennis technical squads.
As a result, EBAT has unearthed several diamonds in the rough, untapped potential that, as Severino says, some clubs ‘won’t go near’.
“Andy has looked at the statistics and is concerned about where the next generation of talent is,” explained Severino.
“You look at junior Grand Slams and they are a hotbed for future talent.
“You go to Wimbledon at the back end of the first week and all the best players from Russia, Romania, Czech Republic and United States are there and these are the guys that will be making up the top-50 in the world over the next five years.
“If the British players are not there, then how is anyone going to take his (Murray’s) place? That is closely linked with growing the game.”
Baltacha had bundles of guts and determination on and off the court, and also a thirst for coaching and developing the next stars, which has already borne fruit.
“We want to show everyone what we are doing and want everybody to use our academy model,”admitted Severino.
“That means getting into schools with our roadshows and giving the teachers some help and advice.
“A lot of clubs will wants to join up with private or affluent schools, but they won’t go near deprived areas. That is something we provide and we want to stand up and shout about it.
“We hosted one roadshow with a follow-on programme and 127 youngsters turned up and 50 of them went on to join the academy.
“It’s all about increasing participation levels and maybe other clubs can follow our lead.”
The academy has tasted tremendous success, despite being unable to boast some of the facilities of its rivals.
Severino said: “There is a leaderboard of regular competitive juniors for our region and we are ranked number two, despite not having any indoor courts, how is that possible?
“Bally started this. It’s something we have always done and is a great example of her spirit and determination.
“We are not number two for nothing and are using her memory in a positive way.”
He added: “One of our girls (Justice Hall) was found when we went to Pipers Vale (for a roadshow) and we supported and provided her with lessons for two years.
“Had we not gone there, she would have not played tennis and would not be representing GB now.
“Without Bally’s strength and drive, she would not have had that chance.”